Russia Below Some New START Limits

Tom Z. Collina

Russia already has met most of its arsenal reduction obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the United States, according to data exchanged by the two countries and disclosed June 1 by the U.S. Department of State.

In the first nuclear stockpile data exchange under the accord, Moscow reported that it was below the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles and close to the 800 limit on launchers, as of the treaty’s entry into force Feb. 5.

The data exchange, which, under the terms of the treaty, had to take place within 45 days of New START’s entry into force, indicates that Russia had 1,537 deployed strategic warheads, 521 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, and 865 launchers. The United States had 1,800 deployed strategic warheads, 882 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, and 1,124 launchers. Both countries have seven years to meet the treaty’s targets. The data are to be updated every six months.

The new data are consistent with statements that Obama administration officials made during last year’s Senate debate on the treaty. “I would point out that while [Russia’s] strategic nuclear delivery vehicles are under the current levels of the treaty, the number of warheads is actually above the levels. So they will be reducing the number of warheads,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 18, 2010, in response to a question from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Russia presumably reduced its warhead levels after Gates’ statement, although actual arsenal holdings for 2010 are classified.

According to Congressional Research Service estimates based on public information, in 2010, Russia had more than 2,700 warheads deployed on 620 delivery vehicles. About 850 of these warheads were in storage for use on 77 heavy bombers. Under New START rules, these warheads are not directly counted because they are not deployed. Instead, each bomber is counted as one warhead. Thus, these 850 warheads would now be counted as 77 warheads under New START. That helps explain how quickly Russia reduced its forces on paper, although Moscow still had to remove from deployment about 100 delivery systems and a few hundred warheads loaded on long-range missiles, such as the SS-18, each of which has 10 warheads.

The number of Russian delivery vehicles already was low, experts say, because Moscow was in the process of retiring older strategic missiles while the treaty was under negotiation. Russia is expected to build new strategic forces over the next decade. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters in March that “the armed forces will receive new strategic and tactical missile systems, such as RS-24 Yars, Bulava and Iskander M.” Putin said that “starting from 2013, the production of [ballistic] missile systems must be doubled.”

Current U.S. strategic delivery systems, by comparison, will stay in service for decades and are in the process of being modernized. For example, current plans call for spending $125 billion over the next decade on new strategic submarines and maintaining the Trident D-5 submarine-launched missile, a new intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the current Minuteman III, new long-range nuclear-capable bombers, and a “long-range standoff” missile to replace the current air-launched cruise missile.

Critics of New START seized on the new data to reiterate one of their main arguments from the Senate debate: Although the treaty imposes the same ceilings on both sides, Russia is much less affected by them because it already was planning to reduce its arsenal. In a June 6 Senate floor speech, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who led the Republican opposition to the treaty, argued that “the New START treaty is perhaps the first bilateral treaty that resulted in U.S. unilateral reductions in nuclear forces.” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, wrote on his Web site June 17 that New START “handed the Russians deep reductions in our nuclear capabilities in return for essentially nothing.”